Heitkamp bids farewell to US Senate after losing re-election

BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) — North Dakota Democrat Heidi Heitkamp bid an emotional farewell to the U.S. Senate, telling colleagues that “gridlock and partisanship does not have to rule the day.”

Heitkamp, in a half-hour speech from the Senate floor, appealed to Congress to display “more political courage” and to “rise above “partisanship and rancor.”

Heitkamp told lawmakers to use “facts and judgment — not polls — to make our decisions.”

She lost her seat to U.S. Rep. Kevin Cramer in November in a race that helped the GOP expand its control of the Senate.

Heitkamp, 63, portrayed herself as an independent who wasn’t afraid to vote against her own party or vote with President Donald Trump.

Cramer won by persuading North Dakota voters that his emphatic conservatism would serve them better than her occasional independence from her own party.

Heitkamp, who served just one term, said she fought every day for rural America.

Heitkamp was the first woman elected to represent North Dakota in either the U.S. Senate or House. Jocelyn Burdick briefly served in the Senate after her husband, Democrat Quentin Burdick, died in September 1992, but she was appointed by then-Democratic Gov. George Sinner.

Heitkamp’s loss was the low point of a political career that began in 1984, when she began the first of seven statewide campaigns with an unsuccessful run for state auditor. She served as tax commissioner and attorney general before her unsuccessful run for governor in 2000.

She lost to Republican and now-Sen. John Hoeven in the gubernatorial race that was interrupted late in the campaign when Heitkamp was diagnosed with breast cancer and underwent surgery six weeks before Election Day.

Heitkamp held back tears talking about her bout with breast cancer, which is in remission. She said she was only given a slim chance to live and used the time “God gave me” to pursue a “good and noble” cause in the Senate.